sexuality

1 Chronicles 1-2, Amos 2

Read 1 Chronicles 1-2 and Amos 2 today.

This devotional is about Amos 2

What made idols so attractive to God’s people? What benefit did they get out of worshipping pieces of wood and stone? What was so powerfully compelling about their theology that all the prophets, judges, and many kings could not root idolatry out of Israel?

There are several answers to that question but a powerful one is alluded to in Amos 2:7d-8b: “Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.” Those verses suggest that idols were attractive because “worshipping” them involved sex. It was immoral and against God’s law to commit adultery but, according to these false religions, you could have sex with someone else beside your spouse as part of your offering to a false god. This activity was wicked in God’s sight, as we see here Amos 2 but it was acceptable in the culture at large when it was done as an act of worship.

No wonder God’s people were so devoted to this type of false worship. “Sex sells,” as the advertising proverb goes. There are no false religions in our setting, that I know of, which offer sex as part of the liturgy. But, as you know, sex is used to sell products, to sell movie tickets, and to get plays on music videos. Sex is also packaged and sold as a product in itself through pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs. Our world is as interested in and as obsessed with sex as any generation in human history has been; sex is now the idol instead of being a feature of worshipping an idol.

The Bible commands us not to commit adultery or fornication but it also commands us not to lust after other people sexually. Loving and serving God requires us to guard our hearts and our eyes and to remind ourselves continually that our bodies belong to God and to our spouse.

Have you drifted into sexual sin or flirted with it in your mind? Are you careful about what you see and where your mind goes when it wanders? Are you thinking inappropriate thoughts about someone in your life who is not your spouse? Have you acted on those thoughts at all? Let this fragment of two verses this morning turn your mind in repentance toward God. Ask him to purify your heart and be obedient to that desire in how you act toward others, think, and look. Don’t join the idolatry of adultery; ask God to help you glorify him with your mind and body.

Numbers 25, Isaiah 15, Psalm 130

Today, read Numbers 25, Isaiah 15, Psalm 130.

This devotional is about Numbers 25.

The end of the previous chapter, Numbers 25:24 says, “Then Balaam got up and returned home, and Balak went his own way.” This gives the impression that Balaam couldn’t find a way to curse Israel so he and Balak went their separate ways. At the beginning of today’s chapter, Numbers 25, we read, “While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods” (v. 1). This sounds like a separate event from the preceding chapters but it is not. The place mentioned in verse 1, “Shittim,” is, according to Numbers 33:49 “along the Jordan” which is also where they were when these Balak/Balaam incidents began (see Numbers 22:1). So the location where the events of Numbers 25 happened is the same location where Balak tried to get Balaam to curse Israel.

Furthermore, Revelation 2:14 refers to “...the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” This indicates that Israel sinned sexually and in idolatry here in Numbers 25 because Balaam taught Balak to entice Israel into sin this way. In other words, Balaam couldn’t call down a curse on Israel himself because that would involve asking God to do something that was against his revealed will. But Balaam could bring a curse on Israel if he could get them to sin. Sex was a gateway sin to idolatry (25:2) and this brought a curse on the people of God. Verse 3b says, “And the Lord’s anger burned against them.” The result was the death penalty for those who sinned and death by plague for 24,000 others.

Sin and its consequences, then, severely weakened the nation of Israel. Maybe it wasn’t as bad a a curse, but it was bad nonetheless. The lesson here for us is that if Satan wants to hurt you, hurt our church, and hurt the cause of Christ--and he does--then successfully enticing us to sin is an effective way to do so. Maybe it isn’t as damaging as a direct strike such as Job experienced, but it is an effective way to hurt the Lord’s work. We need to guard our hearts and lives against sin for many reasons. It is displeasing to God, dishonoring to the Lord, damaging to our spiritual life and more. But one result of sin that maybe we don’t think about as much is the damage it can do to the Lord’s church and his cause.

If you’re living in unrepentant sin, the best way to contain the damage is to come forward and repent. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” If you’re playing with sin in your mind, going over and over in your head what it would be like, how nobody would ever know, etc. then please consider how much damage your sin can do--to you, your family, our church, and more. Then turn from that sin, refusing to play with it mentally any longer.

Numbers 15, Psalm 51, Isaiah 5, Hebrews 12

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 15, Psalm 51, Isaiah 5, Hebrews 12. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Psalm 51.

As I was working through today’s passages, I was struck by a thread that runs through three of them. First, in Numbers 15:37-41 God commanded the people of Israel to sew tassels to the corners of their garments. Why? Numbers 15:39-40: “You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.” In other words, the tassels were there to remind Israel not to sin particularly in the realm of sexual sins. At the very point of removing their garments, the tassels should have reminded them of God’s commands and that their covenants in marriage were made before God. It was one last emergency break before two of them committed immorality. I wonder how many sins were stopped and marriages were saved by this simple reminder?

Of course, if someone doesn’t care about God, or really wants to sin, or has never read in God’s law what the purpose of those tassels was, they will do no good. Rules and regulations can be safeguards to those who desire holiness and obedience but they are mere hassles to those who want to sin. Fortunately, as David exemplified in Psalm 51, God is merciful to those who call on him in faith seeking forgiveness. While we need God’s mercy and forgiveness, it is no substitute for a hunger for holiness. After pleading with God for his mercy and forgiveness, David turned in verse 10 to cry out for a holy heart: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” This is a sign of true repentance. We are so easily deceived by sin and find it so easy to rationalize in our own lives what we condemn in others, but when our sin is exposed, the harsh light cast on what it truly is, a truly repentant person wants God to change him or her. 

And why can God show mercy and forgiveness to us? Hebrews 12: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The joy that led Christ through the experience of the cross was the joy of showing mercy and grace to sinners and reuniting us to God through his sacrifice on the cross. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 6, Psalms 40–41, Song of Songs 4, Hebrews 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 6, Psalms 40–41, Song of Songs 4, Hebrews 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Song of Songs 4.

They say confession is good for the soul so I will confess that, of all the books of the Bible, I’ve spent the least amount of time, I think, in the Song of Songs.* Not that I find the content uninteresting, but there is little to nothing in this book revealed about God or that is theologically important. You can be a strong believer without ever reading Song of Songs, so this book tends to be a lower priority for Bible study.

Still, God saw fit to inspire this book and include it in the canon of Scripture, so it is not without importance. But what does this book contribute to our walk with God? Here are a few thoughts.

First, this book debunks the notion that marriage is a contractual arrangement that, until recently, was romance-optional. Some Christian writers and some secular thinkers have postulated that marriage came into being for bearing and raising children and for forming family alliances that increased an extended family’s prosperity. Two fathers would collaborate to arrange a marriage for their children, whether they cared for each other or not. Once married, a couple would want children, so whatever else their relationship meant was secondary to bearing the children and creating the family. A family would grow to become a clan and that clan would grow to include tribes and eventually a nation would be formed—all through marriage and child bearing. There is no doubt that bearing and raising children was one of God’s key reasons for creating the family. But remember that God’s reason for creating Eve was because “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 3:18) and, after he created her and gave her to Adam, Moses said, “ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The phrase “that is why” refers to the whole account of Eve’s creation and Adam’s union with her, but that all started with the problem of man being alone. In other words, it is the drive for companionship—the special kind of companionship that the intimacy of marriage can create—that compelled God to create marriage. Song of Songs reminds us that romance and desire are not modern, Western drivers for marriage; they are God-given drives that he created marriage to satisfy.

Second, Song of Songs teaches us that romantic passion doesn’t have to fade or die. Neither you or your spouse looks like you did when you met or when you married, but those characteristics that attracted you aren’t gone completely. Men, read the description Solomon wrote in verses 1-7 of today’s chapter. None of us has the literary prowess of Solomon, but how would you feel if you spent as much time thinking positively about your wife’s body as Solomon did? Instead of focusing on her “flaws” or comparing her to what she was or, God forbid, to other women, what if you looked her over from head to toe with admiration like Solomon did? What if you told her, as passionately as you could, how pretty you find her eyes or how much you enjoy looking at her curves? Maybe she would respond as positively as the woman in today’s passage did to Solomon’s words (see verse 16 which commentators interpret as an invitation to have sex). 

Third, Song of Songs teaches us that love and desire are not incompatible with faith in God or outside the realm of our relationship with God. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be desired nor is there any problem with having lustful thoughts. The problem is when we want to be desired by someone instead of or in addition to our spouse; our lustful thoughts are sinful when they are directed toward another person or when they drive us to sinful behaviors instead of toward the one to whom we promised our love and passion. God wants you to have a private, passionate relationship with someone of the opposite sex. He made you to crave that attention and to direct that attention and he wants you to enjoy this as an aspect of your life. When a spouse’s heart goes wandering there may be many reasons but one of them is that we want passion to be fresh and easy like it was when we first got married. But your marriage can have all the fire and satisfaction—and none of the guilt—if you see your desires as gifts of God to be enjoyed within God’s will—your marriage. It takes effort, at times, not because we’re incapable of loving and desiring our spouse but because we focus on the flaws instead of the strengths or we idealize another person we don’t really know instead of prizing the blessing of someone who knows us intimately and wants us anyway. Or desire may have faded because we’re looking at our marriage through a thick residue of resentment or through tears of disappointment. If we learn to obsess on what is attractive rather than a host of unmet, unstated and possibly unrealistic expectations, we can find the old passion again. Fan it into a flame and enjoy the love God wants  you to have in the one he brought into your life.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

*If you grew up reading the King James Bible, as I did, you probably refer to this book as Song of Solomon. I’m pretty sure my kids learned it as Song of Solomon, too, when they were memorizing the books of the Bible. And, honestly, I just noticed yesterday that it is Song of Songs in the NIV, not Song of Solomon. Why did the NIV change from the KJV’s Song of Solomon? To better reflect the Hebrew title for the book which is Solomon’s Song of Songs or, a better English translation: Solomon’s Most Excellent Song. But, that’s too lengthy a title, by Western standards, anyway, for a book of the Bible. Here’s an article from the NIV Study Bible that gives some good background information about the book.